With new FEMA money, county can buy all Oso mudslide tracts

OSO — Snohomish County is now positioned to offer buyouts to all property owners directly affected by the Oso mudslide, now that a second federal grant has come through.

County officials learned Thursday about a new $2 million award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It comes on top of $5.9 million FEMA awarded the county in June.

“I want to express my deep gratitude to everyone involved in this process, from our emergency management partners to our congressional delegation,” County Executive John Lovick said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have so much support at the local, state and federal level.”

The slide hit on March 22, 2014, killing 43 people in the rural Steelhead Haven neighborhood and along Highway 530.

The buyout area includes the approximate square mile hit by debris as well as surrounding areas at a high risk of flooding from the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

The federal buyout grants should allow the county to make offers on 100 land parcels. Many property owners own several parcels each.

“It will allow us to make offers to everyone we’ve identified in the updated flood plain for the slide area,” said Heather Kelly, the county employee coordinating long-term slide-recovery efforts. “They can choose to participate or not.”

The county started sending out buyout offers Monday for the first round of FEMA grants.

The buyout process — like many disaster relief programs — is complex and involves a mix of federal, state and local agencies.

Sellers must have clear title to their land to close a deal. That means the county can’t buy properties encumbered by liens or other restrictions. Some families have struggled with banks that won’t forgive mortgages.

Any land acquired in the mudslide zone will be set aside as open space.

The county already has purchased 13 acres for a future memorial near Steelhead Drive, a street where many of the slide victims lived.

Family members are still thinking about how they’d like to remember their loved ones.

“We’re giving them time and being thoughtful about the process,” Kelly said.

One general point of agreement is the memorial should reflect the natural beauty that attracted people to live in the area. It’s undecided who would manage the future memorial — the county or some other entity.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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